By Jerry Audet
This week is the first since sometime in early April that I haven’t surf fished. Therefore, understandably, rather expectedly, it’s a sad week.
It’s been a cold and windy fall. Exceptional, really, in a many regards. Too cold, with too low a success rate, to reasonably expect anyone to continue fishing the New England surf at this point.
But this isn’t about anyone, this is about me. And therefore, logic and reason seem somehow to not apply.
So instead, or rather in spite of, this reasonable assessment, I balk, and dive into brooding rebellion. I am moping around the house, forlorn; I get irritable. “Guys just give up too soon!”, “I’m more committed!”, “Remember that 40-pounder caught on the Cape in December? I can be THAT guy!”. Proclamations of a desperate man, illogical delusions.
Humans are drawn to consistency, to behavioral patterns. Daily, weekly, and seasonally. It’s good for mental health; indeed good for physical health. Studies have shown this - I know, I have read them.
So with the end of the season, I’ve lost my pattern, and with it, my stability. And as such, I feel unstable; or rather, perhaps, unwell. The rituals stop suddenly; the wetsuit doesn’t have to be rinsed again. I no longer have to check my leader, or prepare my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the car ride home. Wherever my favorite yellow darter got to in the car, it can just stay there until May.
And so idleness, and emptiness, invade the places these daily and nightly conventions usually hold.
The end of the season, for me, is a lot like preparing for death. You know it’s inevitable; that it’s coming no matter your most fervent wishes it wouldn’t. You know, implicitly, at your first cast of the season that it will, eventually, end; but you push it away anyways. Denial. Seven months, after all, is a long time when viewed in the future.
But it feels so cheaply short when looking back.
And so the end doesn’t come suddenly, but it always feels like it. Again like the coming of death, or perhaps rather like aging, toward the end, I do not suddenly stop, I just do it less and less. I fall back on what I can do, what is available to me, filling in the gaps- things to prop me up as a huge part of my life fades away. I start running more; a lot more. I trout fish and hunt for bass and pickerel before the ice comes. I start trying to reconnect with my friends whom I’ve neglected and disappeared from over the last seven months. Part of me comes back into view, even as another part of me slides away. It’s good, I know, but it takes some time for me to actually believe it.
I know I cannot will the season to last; I do not command the relentless march of time. I will never be that much in control; so it is to be mortal. Yet, it doesn’t make it any easier when the final days come.
And so, while October offers seven day-per-week fishing windows, November, by some measure, is less- especially at the end. And December defines “inconsistent”; it is the end.
And it is, suddenly, here.
Still, until last week, every chance I got, I continued to hit the surf. I saw an extra sunny and “warm” day, and canceled a scheduled run I had, and fished the night tide. Nothing: no hits, and no fish. Then, I went again on a particularly calm night, despite knuckle-crippling cold. Everything felt oh so right that night. Yet, again- no fish. I left that particular night frustrated- my head and my heart arguing over what to do next. The former knowing the end had arrived, the latter refusing to believe it.
And, this week, there were no windows. It has been so cold; the tides are all wrong. I caught a cold and was waylaid for part of the week. In consequence, I have work piling up; and all my favors- begged, borrowed, and exchanged- are expired. So I am stuck playing catchup. And then, my wife asks me sheepishly, for the first time in years, to stay home and not fish. To help her decorate the house for the Holidays. How can I reasonably say no?
And so it goes. I always say, “this year, I will cut it off”. I will implement some hard deadline, predetermined in April; to mitigate the suffering at the end. Or rather, give myself some kind of parameter, something to motivate me; or end the suffering, depending on what the situation might be. And yet, every year instead, I just tail off. I keep a glimmer of hope burning that maybe there’s one more bite to be had. Herring moving along the coast, 40’s hot on their tails. Maybe an exceptionally stable sand eel bite. A push of teen bass through my area. So I go from five days a week, to three, then to two, then I’m dragging myself to the coast one night of the week out of spite and mutiny against something I wish wasn’t true, but I know that it is.
“You can’t catch them from the couch!” I tell myself, as ice forms in my guides and beard.
Then, the end really comes in ultimate finality. Sometimes I really don’t plan it, a couple weeks of bad weather and despite my best intentions, I never get out again.
Other years, it slips more slowly into the past tense…”the surf season was”.
But this year, today, I have made a choice.
The truth is, I am ready. Sadness, denial, loss- sure, I feel that. But also, acceptance. It’s time. For the first time in years, I’m making the choice, early, to stop. No tailing off. No final “one last trip just to say I did”.
The season could have been worse. I tell myself this to soften the blow. 740, or so, bass is a substantial number. Seven fish over thirty pounds is a number I can be proud of. I worked damn hard for those numbers. I’ve earned this rest. I can stop.
I can; I don’t want to, but I am; I can let the season go.
Consider this post acceptance; my formal resignation.
Until next season then. Until screeching Red-wing Blackbirds and deafening peepers. Until suicidally determined herring, and rich, sweet blooming Forsythia.